Sunday, 16 June 2013

We all need to be worried by next Comprehensive Spending Review

In this coming week’s Cornish Guardian, my column will focus on the Comprehensive Spending Review of the Coalition. It is as follows:

On the 26th June, the Coalition Government will announce its spending plans for the year 2015/16. More cuts are anticipated and certain sectors, such as local government, are extremely fearful.

The previous Comprehensive Spending Review, which covered the period 2011 to 2015, reduced spending across numerous government departments, made truly disproportionate cuts to local government funding, and harshly slashed the welfare bill.

The spending power of Cornwall Council will have fallen by a massive £546 million by 2015, and further cuts could be disastrous. An influential committee of MPs has already reported that ministers do not understand the impact of their austerity measures on local councils, some of which have been described as “close to collapse,”  while the Local Government Association recently stated that the ongoing cuts could bring local government “to its needs.”

I am frustrated that there is a dominant political discourse at the present time, promoted by the Government, which claims that there is no option other than to make savage cuts.

And I am disappointed that the Labour Party has given succour to this perspective by stating that they will stick to the Coalition’s spending plans for 2015/2016 if they are elected at the next General Election.

But there are alternatives, and we should be applauding the efforts of those people who are challenging the approach of the Westminster parties.

Two of these individuals are Barry and Saville Kushner, who have written a book entitled: “Who needs the cuts? Myths of the economic crisis.” It is an insightful read, though, in this column, I only have the space to focus on two of the myths.

First, the narrative promoted by central government states “our national debt is higher than it has ever been.” But the Kushners demonstrate that government debt was higher in 200 out of the last 250 years. 

And secondly, this dominant narrative continuously claims the downturn was caused not by the banks, but by the “over-spending of the previous government.” This is so untrue. Did you know that, between 1979 and 1997, Conservative Governments borrowed on average 3.4% of “national income” whereas, between 1997 and 2007, the last Labour Government borrowed on average 1.2% of “national income.”

We need to do more to challenge the cuts agenda, so that – to quote Barry and Saville Kushner – we do not end up with “a smaller public sector, shrunken local councils, a withered local democracy, only basic social and care services, a less-than-subsistence benefits system, increased poverty and a bigger gap between the rich and the poor.”

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